USOC's sniveling turns NBA dream into (probably one-shot) nightmare

Ken Rosenthal

August 05, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal

BARCELONA, Spain -- Take a good look at the Dream Team in its final two Olympic games, for chances are the phenomenon won't ever be the same again.

Too many criticisms.

Too many conflicts.

Too many hassles.

The Dreamers advanced to the semifinals with a 115-77 victory over Puerto Rico last night, but the Anti-Dreamers keep plotting backstage, working diligently to spoil the fun.

If it's not one thing, it's another.

The great victory stand dispute finally was settled yesterday -- all right Michael, cover up that dreaded Reebok logo -- but it didn't take long for another controversy to erupt.

This one came courtesy of Dr. LeRoy Walker, head of the U.S. Olympic delegation.

Dr. Walker wants the NBA stars living in the Olympic Village. Dr. Walker claims he doesn't care if they ever come back.

Meanwhile, Jordan ponders skipping Chicago Bulls training camp due to mental exhaustion, Karl Malone compares the Olympic experience to being "in a good prison" and Charles Barkley says, "We've got two more to go. I wish we could play them both tomorrow."

A regular party, huh?

Only for the rest of the world.

In Barcelona, hundreds assemble at the basketball venue trying to score tickets. The unlucky ones remain outside, gathering around a small TV installed at a makeshift food stand.

Inside, the fans wear their treasured "USA Basketball" caps and T-shirts. The flashes go off by the dozens whenever an NBA star takes a shot.

The games, of course, are ridiculous, but no one cares. Last night the Dream Team took a 17-0 lead, allowed Puerto Rico to pull within 17-13, then skipped happily away again.

Oops, sorry to enjoy the spectacle.

Here comes Dr. Walker.

"I am not convinced yet we had to have NBA players on our team," Walker said. "With all the college players we have in the country, if we chose the right ones, we can still win.

"We have professionals on the team, that's fine. We have professional skiers and others, and they're no problem. But they should all follow the same rules as everyone else. If they don't want to and aren't here the next time, I wouldn't care."

So, this is about the village. The stupid village. The village where the NBA players mingle with their beloved fellow athletes, and get mobbed.

Yes, the basketball players are staying in a $900-a-night hotel, but as Barkley so aptly put it, "I'm a black millionaire. I should be able to live where I want."

You want the best athletes, you get the professionals. You get the professionals, you recognize they might not identify with all the glorious old amateur ideals.

Dr. Walker also criticized track and field athletes and tennis players who weren't living with their field hockey and archery teammates, but he seemed most disturbed by the NBA stars.

Never mind the privacy and security issues.

And never mind the benefits to the USOC, either.

"We've probably made more money for them than any other athletes in the history of the Olympics," Magic Johnson said. "They should be trying to help."

The NBA stars don't need this. They don't need the backlash. They don't need the risk. They don't need the bother.

"You can't really go anywhere or do anything," Malone said. "It's beginning to get to me, and I'm sure the other guys too, because you're just stuck in a hotel."

Life, of course, should be full of such problems, but with all the turmoil that surrounds this team, it's reasonable to wonder who will play in 1996 and beyond.

Think Bulls management is delighted with the prospect of Jordan missing camp? Think Utah Jazz management is thrilled with John Stockton playing on a mild leg fracture?

Atlanta figures to attract some big names, but some type of college-pro split seems almost inevitable, if only to appease everyone involved.

Too many criticisms.

Too many conflicts.

Too many hassles.

It was fun while it lasted.

But if you're the Dream Team, maybe you just take the ball and go home.

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